Showing posts with label Mountainview. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mountainview. Show all posts

Monday, May 5, 1997

Theater Review: Middlebury shines in Washington

Published in the Mountainview

On the Theater Lab stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., another Middlebury College play was performed this year. This time it was Dan O'Brien '96 wo wrote the play "The Last Supper Restoration," directed it and acted in it. For his writing, he won the National Student Playwriting Award, sponsored in part by the Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival.

The seats were filled to capacity, and hopeful attendees without tickets were turned away at the door. The re-staging of the play was impressive, given the time limitations and the fact that the original play had been so closely tied to the Middlebury College Studio Theater space in which it was first performed.

A significant revision of the original Middlebury production, this version was the one which went to the Irene Ryan Festival in Boston last autumn; the reworking succeeded at clarifying and simplifying a piece whose intellectual depth was matched by the quality of the company's performance. (Disclosure: the part of Caterina was played by my sister, Katherine Inglis '98.)

The cast and crew were in at least three countries and three states the week before the production went up at the Kennedy Center; airlines and car-rental companies no doubt rejoiced when they heard that O'Brien would be coming from Ireland, Coert Voorhees would fly in from Chile, Ted Dowling from Seattle, Nick Molander and Katherine Inglis from Vermont, and others from Vermont and New York City. The diaspora of the company is a testament to its level of ability; their capacity to perform the play for the first time in three months after only a couple of days of rehearsal is nothing short of phenomenal.

Dealing with three different time periods in the fifteenth and twentieth centuries, the play is a detailed amalgam of the lives of Leonardo da Vinci, a restorer of da Vinci's "The Last Supper," and the son of that restorer. Blending the diverse threads of art, homosexuality, Nazism, Judaism, love, fear, and death (among others), "The Last Supper Restoration" is in itself a restoration of multi-level dramatic arts, when each speech had multiple meanings, and each character stood for something much more than just one person in a

O'Brien's National Student Playwriting Award is actually a series of awards, including cash awards, professional memberships and development opportunities, and the publication of his play by high-profile drama publisher Samuel French, Inc. In addition to those awards, O'Brien is currently on a Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship in Ireland acting in Irish productions and working on new plays of his own.

In attendance at the first national production of an O'Brien play were members of the Middlebury alumni community in Washington, D.C., an impressive contingent from the College (attending in both official and unofficial roles), and a large number of the general public. Comments in the audience afterward ranged from the confused to the congratulatory, though the reaction was unanimous to a scene in which an airline stewardess puts her hand inside a bag of a passenger's vomit.

O'Brien has made a promising beginning with a play which appeals to the intellectual and the emotional, combining history and conjecture in a story which entrances and intrigues. We will definitely hear more from O'Brien soon, and we congratulate him on his success to date.

The ICC/ACTF program is a national program for all dramatic arts, sponsored by academic institutions, businesses, and theater organizations nationwide. Awards are given for excellence in areas too numerous to name, and the prestige of such awards is great in the world of theater. Middlebury College has historically had good luck participating in KC/ACTT and its regional Irene Ryan awards; the theater department here is known for its strength and quality of acting, performance, and production.

Opinion: Women's Issues? Not quite.

Published in the Mountainview

It's time we had a talk. Just you and me. Man to man. (Women, you can read this, too.) The Report of the Task Force on the Status of Women was just issued, and it's time you sat down and read it. Yes, you. Yes, even if you read it before. Siddown.

The issues in this report are not women's issues. They are human issues, and they affect you and me as much as they affect the women with whom we share this campus and this town. Here are some very cold facts, which don't make me proud.
•           The woman sitting next to you in evening seminar doesn't feel safe walking home in the dark.
•           The woman just behind you in the line at Proctor is going to eat some salad and maybe an apple today. That's all.
•           The woman who lives across the hall from you is the only woman in her year who is majoring in her field. She's also found that all the classes she has left to take are taught by men.
•           The woman behind the counter at Proctor, serving your food, has three kids she hasn't seen since this morning. She'll miss seeing them tonight before they go to bed, because she has to work late cleaning up.
•           The faculty member who just walked past you coming out of the Crest Room is afraid she'll never get tenure. She gave up having a family to have an academic career; now she might have neither.

These are all real problems which are happening here and now. They are not problems without solutions. They are not someone else's problem. They are my problem, as an alumnus, and they are your problem, as a male student, faculty, or staff. It is your personal problem, and you, yourself, today, need to fix ii Here are some ideas, to get you started:
•           If you feel comfortable doing so, start talking to that woman next to you in class. Keep up the conversation after class and walk with her wherever she's going, talking all the way. Then go where you were going. She'll be safer, you'll have helped solve the problem, and she didn't even have to admit she's scared.
•           Have a look at what your friends eat, men and women. If your roommate is gorging himself on onion rings, point out that there are fresh onions over on the salad bar. If his girlfriend has a single chickpea on her plate, let her know you care about how she takes care of herself.
•           On course evaluations, say what you think would have been different if your class had been taught by someone of the opposite gender of your real professor.
•           Thank the woman who just put the food on your plate. At least let her smile once today.
•           When someone you think should get tenure is up for review, write a letter to the Committee on Review, or to the department chair. Qualified women and men deserve a shot a Middlebury careers; help them out.

You're going to ask me why you should do this. There are a couple of answers. The first is that the world can always stand to be a better place. If you work towards that goal, in whatever ways you feel comfortable, everyone will be a little better off. That's the "piein-the-sky reason," The other reason is that someday you will be a minority somewhere. You'll be the only white person on the street in Chinatown, New York, or you'll be working somewhere where everyone else behaves properly towards women and men. You'll need their help, and you'll have to earn it. Start now.

These subjects are not just women's issues. The fact that any human beings are in these situations demands our immediate action. Caring about others — women and men — and being respectful of their rights and responsibilities, is something you will have to do for the rest of your life. Middlebury is an excellent place to start; everyone can work on it together, and we can all help each other. But you, and you personally, have to do something about it today.

Monday, April 28, 1997

Alumni profile: Jennings aiming for the marketing moon

Published in the Mountainview

Marketing and business building have gotten Ryan Jennings '91 his own business and some rich opportunities, all the while living in Cornwall. He not only builds his own business, but sells his skills to others interested in enlarging their own markets.

Jennings spoke to The Mountainview about his work with a photography business based in Maine. Found by accident, the company has blossomed into an opportunity for Jennings, providing he plays his cards (and cornpany politics) correctly.

An initial conversation began with Jennings and one of the directors of the company, regarding marketing opportunities for prints of the unique wide-angle sports stadium shots which are the company's flagship products, turned into a series of exploratory meetings between Jennings and the company's founders.

He had a lot of ideas for them, and gained credibility with them almost immediately because he had some ideas for marketing their product which they had considered but not yet implemented. He also had some new ideas, which all agreed were good ideas. "They get so close to it," he said, explaining how the company's advertising plans had left out seemingly obvious marketing opportunities, so Jennings decided to explore his own ideas himself.

He sought and got permission to market the photographs himself, at his own expense, in exchange for a cut of the profits from sales he attracted. Jennings's basic philosophy is the classic marketing cliché, "The customer is always right." He said, "Business people think about what they want to do, instead of what the customer wants, or where the customer is." Jennings focuses on his intended customers, using what he calls "funnel vision," the opposite of "tunnel vision."

The son of an inventor, Jennings learned early on the opportunities and shortcomings of "experts." Those people, Jennings said, don't see opportunities the same way non-experts do; they are used to knowing what they do and how to do it. Creative marketing, Jennings argues, comes from saying "I don't know" and then discovering the answer. He also attributes his marketing success to the fact that he works in multiple industries and "cross-pollinates" with marketing ideas, taking an idea from one company or industry and applying it to another.

As the photography company ignored his advice for more and more time, his frustration with them grew. Eventually Jennings began marketing their material as an independent agent, acquiring prints for wholesale rates and using his own publicity ideas to sell the products.

He learned valuable lessons from his collaboration with this company: at a public collectibles show, they made nearly no sales. At closed industry trade shows (for restaurant owners, for example), sales were in the thousands of dollars daily. Picking events, publications, and locations for sales is vital to the success of a marketing effort, Jennings said.

Jennings notes that while he hopes for success with this project, he has placed himself at great financial risk, investing thousands of dollars of his own money to pay for advertisements in magazines, and for a toll-free phone number to accept orders. He is confident that his ideas will pay off, and estimates that he will gross twice his capital outlay within the next eight months.

He is concerned, however, because the photography company with which he is involved is very wary of losing control of their product. A unique product in the world of sports photography, and possible only with a camera valued at $150,000, the stadium panoramas are a sure seller. The photographer obviously wants to make the maximum amount he can from his work. Jennings notes, however, that success in business comes from a melding of two major principles: innovation and marketing. He concedes that the photographs are innovative and are. for the moment, selling themselves.

He notes, though, that the marketing effort put out by the company itself has been feeble and only a limited success. He is betting that his marketing skills can take the photographer's innovation and make it a commercial success. It is this risk which will determine the path of Jennings's career in the short term.

Opinion: Balance is the key

Published in the Mountainview

Technology maven Esther Dyson recently said, "The most important finite resource in the late 20th century is people's attention." Nothing could be more correct Information is flowing into our lives faster than ever before. Information about places and people previously unheard of is now meeting us for breakfast, in the morning paper and on the morning news programs.

Who a hundred years ago would have thought that the struggle for power of an overweening rich man, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, would headline world news? We are inclined to ask why this is important to Americans. It is clearly of importance to the people of Zaire and neighboring countries.

Don't we have enough to worry about? Social activists constantly remind us of human rights tragedies around the world and in the United States, Amnesty International makes a point of including the U.S. in its annual reports on the world's worst human-rights offenders. Don't we have enough to do, here at home? Shouldn't our attention be spent on cleaning our own house, rather than throwing stones at the glass houses others inhabit? Isn't that, even if a productive use of our own time and energy, distracting them from the pressing problems of their worlds?

Attention is something we must ration carefully; Dyson is correct. We have only so much time to spend on anything. only so much mental energy before we need sleep, respite, or a good beer. We must choose what we pay attention to; we cannot afford to choose unwisely, How, then, should we determine what to ignore? Or should we ignore nothing, sufficing with short blurbs about everything, reducing our knowledge to trivia and our understanding to mere chronology?

As individuals, we each have certain special interests. Mine may relate to technology and the communications revolution; yours may be in environmentally-aware architecture. Each of us follows a certain set of topics, from sports teams and academic disciplines to current events in the domestic affairs of particular nations. As a nation, we have certain collective interests. Health insurance for all Americans is something to which we should each bend an ear from time to time. We also need to know where our elected representatives stand on the Chemical Weapons Ban Treaty and nuclear non-proliferation. These indicate, however, that there is an overlap in individual, domestic national, and international levels of interest.

The line between what we pay attention to and what we ignore is fuzzy at best. It is no less clear for the fact that daily events occur which we could not have predicted but which directly affect our lives. Would anyone argue that Americans should ignore the threat to our own individual personal safety posed by the Oklahoma City bombing? Would anyone argue that Americans at large ever expected such an event to occur? We need to pay attention to people telling us things we haven't asked about, which we don't know about to be interested in them.

And so our attention is again stretched, unfocused, confused. Can we just shut off the world, even for a short time, and listen to the silence? In the age of digital timekeeping, silence is just that; there's not even a clock ticking to remind us of time passing. Silence can be wonderful, and relaxation, departure from this hectic world refreshing. It is imperative that, at the same time as we learn to take in, process, and comprehend more and more information, we also learn to take time for ourselves to remain in balance.

To do otherwise would be to invite disaster of a cognitive nature. The world closes in around us, and we must learn to escape it or risk being enveloped by it. Our attention must be focused on yet another subject: our own personal, societal, and human well-being: This is the area in which it is most imperative that we all pay attention. We must all confer upon each other the human dignities we ourselves desire; we must respect the space and time of others, and the fact that they, too, suffer from the same attention deficit we do. Our time here is limited, and to make the most of it some things must fall by the wayside.

Each of us must decide individually what to leave behind and what to carry forward. Those who strive to do too much or too little will risk failure and insignificance, both individually and societally. Balance is the key: our resources are indeed finite.

Monday, April 21, 1997

Concert Review: Final After Dark concert soars with Rogers

Published in the Mountainview

At the final After Dark Music Series concert of the 1996-1997 season at the Knights of Columbus Hall, a busy crowd, arriving before sunset for the first time, eagerly awaited the opening of the Friday night show.
Mustard's Retreat, a folk duo, opened. David Tamulevich and Michael Hough, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, began with "Leave in Jubilation." By the next song, the audience was singing along with the old ballad "I Owe My Soul to the Company Store." Their voiceslifted in smooth harmony, and the humorous introduction to "All My Incarnations" reminded the audience that "you can't take it with you, but with reincarnation, you can come back and get it."

Tamulevich and Hough, who also performed at a family show on Saturday, then told the story of "Brer Rabbit and Sandy Raccoon," complete with sound effects. It was a different sort of reincarnation story.

Subsequent songs had the audience remembering failed romances, and then congratulating the volunteers who make the After Dark Music Series not only possible but a roaring success. Even the opening act did an encore; everyone sang Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More."

Canadian folk guitarist Garnet Rogers then took the stage. He began with a medley of songs in his deep-throated baritone voice. Rogers is a powerful vocalist and guitarist.

Despite extremely nimble maneuvers on his fingerboard, Rogers' music retained a relaxed quality. The first four songs, all in the same key, covered emotions from loneliness through love, energy, and hope, to despair in the story of a drunken poor man, in "Poor Man's Dream."

His next song was about a woman's self-acceptance. Called "The Beauty Game," it reminded all present of the limitations of the human mind, heart, and form. Rogers's sensitivity is not limited to humans; he sang a ballad about saving an aging racehorse from the dog-meat factory.

He played a rare instrument, a mandoguitar, for which he wrote a song called "The Next Turn of the Wheel." An ethereal instrument, it complemented his baritone voice. The song, about places which hold bittersweet memories, showcased his mastery of the guitar nuances.

After the break, Rogers returned to deliver another guitar-voice counterpoint piece, "As Long as the Years Go By," followed immediately by a cover of Greg Brown's tribute to "the two icons of North America," Jesus and Elvis. Rogers's lively personality was clear from his stories. The first, about trying to find vegetarian food in Laramie, Wyoming, had the audience in peals of laughter. He talked about his career in folk music and likened it to "being in the Witness Protection Program: they know you're out there, but they don't know how to get to you."

He then turned right around and had us humming and singing softly to a lovely rendition of Cyndi Lauper's inspiring "True Colors," played on a six-string with an echo box, lofting the notes to the sky. A wrenching song about domestic violence, "Tommy," illustrated a story about a group of Canadian men who protest male violence against women.

Having explained how he began his folk music career, in the 1970s, trying to compete with the disco craze by playing maritime and traditional folk music in Canadian clubs, Rogers closed with two songs about driving across his native country between gigs. He warned that they were "written in real time." Long though the songs were, they were excellent examples of the magic Rogers can work with a guitar, and with the words of his songs.

The entire audience stayed up very late - near midnight - to hear the whole show. The music was wonderful, a tribute not only to Rogers's talents but also to sound engineers Mark Mulqueen and Richard Ruane, who managed to make the Knights of Columbus Hall sound like a professional concert auditorium.

Rogers's encore was a haunting cover of "Romeo and Juliet," by Dire Straits, one of the United Kingdom's foremost folk and rock bands. As the audience left the hall, tears, smiles, and sighs abounded. Another After Dark season has drawn to a close.

Opinion: Middlebury: So close to ideal

Published in the Mountainview

It is the time of year when seniors write reminiscences of their years at Middlebury. Usually published in the Campus, many of them are very happy with the circumstances and surroundings of their college education. Many of them, however, will no doubt have been open critics of the College at one time or another. Whence this frustration, and then these happy memories?

Perhaps it is because Middlebury is such a nice place, with so much to offer, that people are frustrated by its failure to achieve perfection. Clearly, Middlebury is not a perfect place or a perfect college. The people are not perfect, and the policies aren't either. But it is a fun place, a welcoming place. It's close to perfection, in a number of ways of defining the word. The mixed feelings may come from frustration of being somewhere so close to perfect, and yet finding it, too, has imperfections.

President McCardell puts a great deal of stock in "what it means to have gone to Middlebury." Perhaps this is because he knows that the college years are a hard time in young lives. Putting a lot of work into making "what it means to go to Middlebury" is as sure to disappoint some as current efforts disappoint others. What matters from the point of view of alumni relations and fundraising is that people remember Middlebury fondly.

Frustration is driven by lack of control, more than anything else. We have all laughed at the fridge magnet which reads "Teenagers, leave home now — while you still know everything!" And yet, when in college, we resent that stereotype and fight against it, just as in high school.

College is a time to grow and develop in a nurturing environment. Idealism remains, latent in the hearts and minds of intelligent youth. Realism must be enforced, the world says: the young must learn.

The young, then, learn about the world, but are told that they are not in it and are unready for it. Commencement may be the official term, but most seniors feel more ready to graduate than they are to commence; this is normal. College students wait for the "real world," failing to realize that Middlebury is actually a fairly good model of the world most Middlebury graduates will inhabit for their lifetimes.

People of a similar socioeconomic background, educational level, and interests will surround Middlebury graduates. Forces and people of control will not be easily seen or addressed. Other people's minds will prove difficult to change; more learning will always need to be done. There is some-times enough time for sleep, but then not enough for television.

Does, then, the contradiction of being both pleased with a place and disappointed with it develop from the confusing situation of waiting for the "real world" while it is just outside the door? Middlebury students are quite well off, as colleges go, and they know it. Nothing is perfect, this is true: perfection is an asymptote to life: however close you come, you're never there.

Or is this duality of opinion from another source: that odd contradiction which makes humans always wish for what we cannot have? Humans tend to forget bad memories, to leave them behind. As good feelings and memories come to life, as the world comes to life in spring, seniors feel a sense of longing for the good times they once had.

Perhaps it is not whence this feeling comes that is important; the feeling itself is worth quite a lot. Seniors will leave (some will stay in the area; others will leave but return) and remember this place and this college happily, and that is good. It is well that so many adults are happy with their youth- fill decision to attend Middlebury. Growth does occur here, and as frustrations and negative feelings melt with the winter snows, seniors prepare to leave to enter what they will create as their "real world." It is not perfect either.

Monday, April 14, 1997

Book Review: A compendium of Braschian views

Published in the Mountainview

Walt Brasch's nationally syndicated weekly column on the media provides the source material for Enquiring Minds and Space Aliens: Wandering through the Mass Media and Popular Culture, published by Mayfly Productions. The oddity begins with three different tables of contents. as a way to get potential critics "to shut up and let the rest of us enjoy life." A series of commentaries on the politics and influence of the media, the collection of columns entertains and informs.

Brasch has a finely honed sense of fair play; he breaks ranks with most pundits by holding media organizations and reporters to the same standards to which they hold the public and public figures. He also puts them in familiar contexts, portraying a fictional trade between news organizations, of one seasoned reporter for "two rookie reporters, an editorial clerk, and a future draft choice."

Brasch decries media collusion with big business and government to mislead the people, and satirizes the media's ability to influence the public. He offers several examples throughout the book, including tabloids in supermarket checkout aisles, explaining that as a commentary on American public interest, they are a frightening spectre indeed.

Also frightening, he notes in one somewhat subversive column (“Wonderings of an Idle Mind"), is the American tendency to ignore bad news and to favor what Brasch clearly considers not "news."

Beyond the serious to the humorous are examples of stories journalists can't file (because they're not true), but should (because it would be so nice if they were true). One of these is NBC's reinstatement of a failed series based on the 1960s civil rights struggle, because, despite terribly low ratings, the subject matter is important,

Brasch's work has a serious element; he uses his column to provide a combination of several interviews: Woodstock attendees and Ohio National Guardsmen present at Kent State. A story hard to define in conventional newspapering finds a home and a voice in Brasch's column. A touching arrangement of well-selected quotes demonstrates insight and talent at discerning subject matter which probes the far reaches of the American popular psyche.

Brasch holds forth with critiques, both positive and negative, of all forms of media in the United States. Advertisers take heat for promoting cigarettes, newspapers for hiring practices, government publicists for their forms of "spin control," and news magazines for theirs. Brasch advocates responsibility and accountability, while offering insight into the true motivations of the public affairs industry.

His story, however, is one-sided. Those who disagree with him have no voice of their own in this book. This is only appropriate because it is a collection of columns; the columnist is traditionally allowed to put words into mouths of adversaries and allies alike, while a news reporter tends not to be permitted the same liberty. This is not to criticize Brasch's journalism skills; those columns in which they, rather than his pundit alter ego, are present, indicate a particular adeptness with words and facts.

Perhaps Brasch will expand some of these columns into chapters in a future book; his observations as a veritable turncoat in the news business are informed from the inside, and attempt to permit the average person to see his world from the inside. It is a world with inherent and deep contradictions, and one which until recently had the respect of a large portion of the American public. It is for reasons like those Brasch illustrates that the public's interest in news and respect for news organizations is waning.

Unfortunately, Brasch offers precious little in the way of solutions to this problem. He even shies away from stating point blank that there is a problem; his satire does the work for him, which is simultaneously admirable and disappointing.

For those seeking an insider's look at the media with the irreverence of the public, this is, above all, a book to enjoy. Its title is far from the only quirky and entertaining thing about it; satire is a dying art Brasch has rekindled some and directed it at a common scapegoat:  the media.

Opinion: The rise of a digital nation

Published in the Mountainview

The April issue of Wired offers for your perusal its "Netizen" column, this month by Jon Katz, remarking upon the digital nature of the election of 1996, and continuing into an exploration of the impact of technology on the political and cultural systems of tomorrow.

Katz has fallen into what is becoming a cliched trap: an older person, ostensibly wiser than the "digital youth" under examination, generalizing about the type of person today's twentysornethings are and will become. Whether we are "Generation X," "digerati," or Katz's "Digital Nation," each of those commentaries has contained something very important and lacked something equally vital.

Katz's postpolitical world, a world in which traditional liberal and conservative values are conjoined in a mixture of individual responsibility and respect for the common good, is ripe with promise. He closes his column with the daunting sentence: "If they choose to develop a common value system, with a moral ideology and a humane agenda, they might even do the world some good." Katz has put himself, rightfully or not, in the role of mentor to what he calls the "digital young," an educated elite with technology at their fingertips around the clock.

It is in this role, and not the role of social observer, in which he fails miserably. A mentor's role is to see trends, possibilities, potential, and ramifications, and to advise upon a course of action. A protege's role is to listen to the mentor and decide what action to take.

The digital young are clearly the proteges in Katz's article, and yet he fails to give us any advice. Instead, we are left with the condescending hope that we do "something right" and end up being a benefit to our world.
In our own defense, this generation has traditionally rejected many norms and ignored not a few expectations (including, most notably, fear of the Soviet Union) in our time. It is ridiculous to suggest that we be expected to heed the advice of our elders; indeed even Katz remarks upon the individualized nature of youth today. However, as much as what we have ignored has benefited us, so too has it hurt us. We have lost the connection to tradition and to experience which has kept our species alive for many thousands, even millions of years.

It is precisely now, at this watershed time, when we need to hear all the voices speak; Katz lauds the Internet's ability to permit this to actually happen. We now need, more than ever, the wisdom of the years and the energy of youth to combine. Our elders are certain to give us som bad advice: we younger people are certain to make grave errors in judgment. It is now time to minimize the damage and learn and make what we can.

We may indeed be able to do the world some good, but we are certain to do more damage without leadership. That leadership must come not only from among our own, but from generations which have gone before, which remember a non-wired world, and which learned of the value of personal communication, and has experienced firsthand the impact technology has on a way of life.

Katz poses many questions: "How will this generation solve the world's problems?” is but one. Has he already given up the possibility that he may be part of the solution, if he chooses to work with us? Is he now becoming part of the problem, and passing the challenge off to other people who he claims are better equipped to handle it? Katz is an astute observer of social generalities, but he does not offer solutions, and seems unprepared to be part of them.

Perhaps historians will one day lament the leadership provided by the Baby Boomers to the Wired Generation; perhaps it will be the Baby Boomers about whom is said, "They could have done the world some good."

Monday, March 31, 1997

Drama Review: Dracula strikes a vein at Middlebury

Published in the Mountainview

Last weekend the Department afTheatre. Dance. and Film/Video outdid itself in the Arts Center Studio Theater. "Dracula," directed by visiting director Blake Montgomery '93, was a spectacularly intricate web of mystery. More a show than a play, taking place on a minimalist Brutalist set, "Dracula" engaged without entrancing, mystified without terrifying, and provoked thought without confusing.

The adaptation from the Bram Stoker novel, created by the cast and staff of the 1997 Spring Production Company, was, simply put, a melange. Putting a classical Greek chorus around Victorian characters, providing startlingly accurate sound effects onstage, and with unobtrusive lighting, "Dracula" was more theatrical than it was theater.

It was, to be sure, an excellent production. The set, which did not change throughout the show, took on characteristics of a castle, a house, a tomb, a train, a canal, and a bustling seaport. Character movements and dialogue served as the only transitions between locations; lighting, directions of character entry, and intricately blocked movement throughout the set provided the visual cues which ensured the audience was aware of scene changes.

The main driving force behind the story of "Dracula," that or evil, was persistent but not scary. The secondary force, latent Victorian eroticism, was only present in the character of the Count himself, who engaged in pelvic thrusts with victims, while drinking blood from their necks.

Complicating matters of audience comprehension, but providing illumination into the story, was the gender reversal: male cast members played female characters, and female actors played the male roles. At first disorienting, this switch became believable and integrated well into the performance.

A part of the show which did not fit well was the sole foray by a character into the audience. Dracula, terrified of his pursuers. raced up the stairs, paused, and then exited from the balcony. It seemed a gratuitous move, in a theater world where audience involvement is becoming commonplace. Monologues were most often directed at the audience, as expositions, rather than solitary ruminations.

The cast was solidly commited to flexibility. Costumes did not change throughout the play, despite widely differing circumstances and locations. The change of a character's nationality took advantage of the caricature skills of a native Texan actor; the set's versatility and believability has already been explained. Each member of the chorus also had a part in the actual plot of the tale. Further, the physical demands of moving around the set on foot, much less on all fours or on stomachs or backs, were strenuous, and were more than in a more conventional production of this story.

The character of Dracula, played by Michole Biancosino '98, was excellent. Not only was the makeup and costume extravagant and clear from the first moment about who this character was, but Biancosino's portrayal of the possessed and tortured Count was at once reserved and passionate. Motivated by desire, relentless, and fearful of failure, Dracula's attempts to create more vampires, and his ultimate defeat at the hands of determined cross-wielding pursuers, were well played. They conformed to some stereotypes of Dracula's behavior, while also illustrating a tortured side of the Count often lost amid the evil and fear he symbolizes.

The rest of the cast, some well-known on the Middlebury stage, and others newcomers, all conducted themselves with what can only be called Middlebury aplomb: their skill, courage, and attitude reflected how hard hey thad worked, and the challenge of the intensity of the story they performed.

This was, it must be noted, a rare event in the history of Middlebury theater. Not a single person stood to applaud at the end or the Saturday matinee performance. Everyone stayed seated throughout the applause. There was no encore appearance of the cast. It was as if the entire audience had become infected with some of the apprehension and malaise they had just seen acted out on the stage. The audience was also swift to depart after the cast retreated from the stage. Neither an indictment of the show, or a laudatory indicator, it demonstrated that uncertainty about the world had been assumed by the audience, at least in the short term.

Opinion: Our ignorance of eternity

Published in the Mountainview

There is in the heavens now a symbol of divine disapproval, a harbinger of doom, a messenger from the gods, a comet. Described by one astronomer on NBC's "Today" show as "an iceberg, twenty-three miles wide, hurtling through space, disintegrating," the Hale-Bopp Comet is now visible to the naked eye.

It is in the north-by-northwestern sky both in the morning and the evening, and will be visible at least through mid-April, if not later in that month. It will pass relatively close to Earth, within about 100 million miles. This is not as close as Halley's Comet came eleven years ago, but is closer than most comets come to our planet. Detected about two years ago by two astronomers (Hale and Bopp), working separately, it is bringing to us knowledge about the universe's very beginnings.

Comets are thought by astronomers to have been created at the moment of the Big Bang. Some of them, like the one whose crater was recently found off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, crashed into planets. Some have no doubt been sucked into stars, and others, like Halley’s, are in regular orbits which are predictable and observable. Hale-Bopp, on the other hand, is a survivor.

It has no known orbit, no explicable reason for coming into our solar system now (as opposed to sooner, or later), and will leave our solar system for parts of the universe we know nothing about. It is not expected to return for nearly 5,000 years, by the best predictions of Earth's scientists.

Comets have an odd place in human history. They have always been seen as messengers from other times, other places, other people. Even now, in the age of ultra-rational science, comets are fossils from the Big Bang, carrying clues to the origin of the universe. Centuries ago, comets drove icicles of fear into the hearts of peasants and academics alike. They were signs of certain doom, crop failures, unhappy gods (or God).

Many things feared long ago we now can explain and study intellectually. There is, however, sornethirig very deep about a comet. No matter their origins, or their chemical composition, the appearance and disappearance of comets throughout history has always reminded humans that there is something larger than this planet, even than this solar system. Whether we are the sole sentient beings in the universe or not, we cannot escape the reality of the immenseness of space.

Hale-Bopp, when it returns, if it ever does (a lot can happen in 5,000 years traveling all over the universe - just as Arthur Dent), will be the best-traveled physical body we know of. It will have gone to more places in the known and unknown universe than any space probe from any solar system. It will have reached distances beyond radio contact with Earth, beyond sight of places from which you could see the Sun.

We can explain a lot about Hale-Bopp, and describe it in meticulous detail. But we must always admit that there will always be things we do not know, and things we cannot explain. Comets remind us of this. They appear overhead, move through the visible heavens, and disappear. We know why this happens — gravity. We do not, though, know all of what it means, and we never will.

Comets are a sign of something we have come to truly fear these days: human ignorance, impotence, and insignificance. Hale-Bopp, as an unexpected and unpredictable heavenly body, forces us to confront what we do not know, what we cannot know, and accept that the universe (or the gods, or God) is larger than we are, here on Earth. We must deal with this fear of the unknown and remember that there will always be an unknown.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his First Inaugural Address, "The only thing to fear is fear itself." We often try to forget even that. Hale-Bopp, the oddly-named visitor from other worlds, other galaxies, and Beyond, signifies to us all that we must conquer fear, because we cannot dispel the cosmic ignorance from which fear comes, and to which we are, ultimately, doomed.

Monday, March 24, 1997

Opinion: Larger than Life

Published in the Mountainview

I now have the opportunity to experience my own art on the scale on which I experience others'. Five of my photographs now hang framed on the walls of my apartment, next to photographs by friends, commercial art, and maps of various parts of the world. At art galleries and museums I see photos blown up and matted, mounted on the wall.

My images are now in that context. The decision to do this was very personal: I want to be reminded of my visual artistry every time I walk into my living room and my bedroom. I want to remember that I am a photographer and to see some of my own best work hanging with what I consider to be that of others. It puts me in context, reminds me of my place, and, in the end, makes me smile.

I had a hard time choosing which of my thousands of images to blow up and put on my wall, for me to see, and for my visitors to look at. I wanted to choose something people would admire, but of which I was also very proud. I wanted to show off what I consider to be my best work. They will not be my best-selling images, nor my most universally accessible. They will, however, be my first favorites.

My own reaction has been the most interesting. Others have made the appropriate comments: "Oh. I like it," "It's,” and so on. I, on the other hand, see something new in each image each time I look at it. I remember something more about the rest of the scene, outside the photograph, or something someone said to me just before or after I made the picture. More often than not, I remember what I felt when I made the photograph.

I explore, each time I see a photograph, the feeling the artist had when she made the image. I try to feel what she felt, to figure out what she left out of the image, to figure out why there is a dark spot in the lower right corner. I have always done this, with photographs, paintings, lithographs, and so on. I have never before been able to study my own work.

I find, happily, that I can learn more from myself than I thought I could, I also have found a lot of room for improvement. variation, and learning. I can pay close attention to details I would have missed in a slide show.
This self-examination and evaluation of my own work is art excellent barometer of my mindset and ability at the moment. It permits me to understand more concretely where I am and what I am doing with myself. The art serves the artist, even as I create it.

It gives me hope that visual communication can still have this effect on me and on others; in an increasingly visual age expressive images are in high demand. Expression of feelings, ideas, and thoughts are at least as important as expression of facts, figures, and non-fiction. The world, shrinking and even closing in a bit, is becoming more surreal, more abstract. Art of all media are expressing this feeling.

The exploration of the artist's mind and heart have been the topic of much discussion and debate for centuries. Entering that dialogue is important and energizing. It affirms the relationship between the self and the surroundings, and enforces respect between the two. Not without risk, it invites not only praise but criticism and misinterpretation. That is part of the bargain: the art is left to speak for itself. Its effect is never predictable, and the artist will never react the same way to her own art as she does to others', or as others do to hers.

Perceptions of the world are dangerous: they reveal ourselves below the surface. Images created by artists, like words spilled by writers onto the page, give away sometimes more than they reclaim.

The relationship between an artist and the public is never clearly defined. I invite you to visit my walls and see for yourself, and to share with me your thoughts on the world I see.

Bread Loaf Skiing At Its Best

Published in the Mountainview

Recent snowfalls in the mountains have created ideal conditions for cross-country skiing at the Carroll and Jane Rikert Ski Touring Center. at Bread Loaf. Managed by John Rubright. the Ski Touring Center offers thirty-eight kilometers of trails, most of which are groomed and tracked on any given day.

The weather of late has been perfect for cross-country skiing; nearly every trail has been open, for skiers of all levels. Lessons are also available, from beginners to advanced, in both skating and classical Nordic skiing.

Rubright has had a fairly steady turnout of College students; the first day no students showed up was last week. He is rightfully proud of the facilities he runs, and wants to be certain more people know about the opportunities available.

The Bread Loaf ski center is one of the best in the nation; Rubright ensures that Middlebury College ski team members are given the best in skiing conditions throughout the season. This ensures that everyone else gets the same, top-notch skiing experience, even w ithout the finely-honed skiing skills or high-tech equipment of a ski racer. Trails are open to all, except during races. Even beginners can check out the race course, to see what the experts have to handle.

Passes are available at the Ski Shop for full-day, half-day, and the whole season. Season passes for students cost about twenty dollars (the same as a midweek half-day at the Snow Bowl). The trails are a mix of wide and narrow, with comfortable turns, challenging uphills, and smooth downhills.

Skiers of all abilities can be found throughout the trail system, and friendly words are exchanged often, even on a short ski. The practice loops (next to the Ski Shop and across Route 125 from the Inn) provide a predictable, controlled environment for practicing form, while the trails north of the field, heading up into the foothills of the Green Mountains, provide varied terrain for enjoyable skiing.

Most weekdays, groups from local schools come for lessons and outdoor recreation. Students come from as far as Leicester and Shoreham to play on skis with their classmates and teachers. Ski instruction is provided by the staff at the Ski Shop, who include Middlebury College students and alumni.

Rubright, often found outside on sunny days wearing sunglasses and a ballcap, enjoys the place, and even skis here with his family on weekends. He drives the grooming equipment early in the morning, and closes up around 4:30 pm. Every so often, a car is left unclaimed in the parking lot as closing time approaches; usually a skier comes in late to sign out in the Ski Shop register.

Interesting things you will find while skiing at Bread Loaf include the Myhre Cabin, on Myhre Hill, animal tracks and the Catamount Trail. A trail running the length of Vermont for cross-country skiers (much as the Long Trail runs the crest of the Green Mountains for hiking), the Catamount Trail follows Bread Loaf trails in the area of Route 125. It heads northeast from the Frost trail, up into the mountains. South of Bread Loaf, it heads towards Goshen southwest of the southern practice loops.

Also sharing space with the Rikert Ski Touring Center is the Middlebury District of the Green Mountain National Forest. Forest Road 59, from Route 125 at Bread Loaf to the junction with Forest Road 54 (part of the Lincoln-Ripton Road), is skiable, though often traversed by snowmobiles. Rolling hills and wide curves provide attractive alternatives to Bread Loaf's wooded trails. Use of any of the Bread Loaf trail system does, however, require purchase of a ski pass.

Cross-country skiing is excellent exercise, as well as being cheap and easy to learn. Skiing is more immediately available on the golf course or around campus, permitting an escape and enjoyable exercise which is not possible with downhill skis. Rubright encourages new skiers to visit Bread Loaf; rentals are very inexpensive, and lesson/rental combinations are available.

Bread Loaf does not offer many tourist accoutrements (though it is very close to Middlebury's more than adequate tourist infrastructure), but is very much a community- and people-oriented cross-country ski experience.

Monday, March 17, 1997

Concert Review: Greg Greenway and Lucy Kaplansky

Published in the Mountainview

The house was almost full at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Merchants' Row in Middlebury on Saturday night, March 8, for a folk music double-bill. Greg Greenway and Lucy Kaplansky shared the March installment of the After Dark Music Series, and provided excellent evening entertainment.

Greenway opened first, the result of his winning a backstage coin toss. Holding his guitar silently in front of him, he began the a capella opening of "A Road Worth Walking Down." After two verses, his guitar leaped to life for the remainder of the song. As promised in the introduction, the second song was a sing-along. It was "folk music with a groove," and the audience loved it.

His fourth song was "a sing along dedicated to people who hate to be asked to sing." called "Don't Make Me Sing," The audience sang along - though not everyone did - and laughed along with the reasons given for why the audience should not sing, and do the work of the performer on the stage.

Two other highlight songs were inspired by current events. The first was his own reaction to the firebombing of a Turkish family's house in Germany, called "Race is a Myth," a warning about the human tendency to react violently to fear and ignorance. The second, "Free at Last," was an expression of the energy Greenway felt in the crowd which welcomed Nelson Mandela to Boston when Mandela visited that city.

Greenway's fingering, strumming, and hammering on his guitar drew out more sounds from one instrument than most know exist. An excellent entertainer and comfortable with the audience, Greenway had the rare pleasure of doing an encore even before intermission!

Kaplansky took the stage after the break, and seemed intimidated by the crowd, which had responded enthusiastically to Greenway's performance. She sang a number of covers and took quite a bit of time finding a niche in the audience's hearts, a task she never fully accomplished. She sang a number of songs with dense and convoluted lyrics, though with exquisite vocal range and expression. (She sang the only song this reviewer has ever heard which used the word "renege" - "Don't Renege On Our Love.")

In addition to performing her own songs, Kaplansky covered songs by Paul McCartney, Richard Thompson, and her father. Irving Kaplansky wrote some songs front the 1930s through the 1950s, and his daughter shared two of them with the audience at the Knights of Columbus Hall. He wrote an intriguingly prescient love song about space in 1951, long before we knew much of anything about interplanetary space. Called "On an Asteroid With You," it was the song her father wrote for her mother on their honeymoon, and included references to the not-yet-invented spacesuit and weightlessness, which had not been discovered.

Most of her songs were about love and relationships, though she approached from different angles from song to song. Kaplansky's own background is tightly tied to the human experience and intensity of feeling. For ten years she was a clinical psychologist. Only a month ago she finally closed her practice and is singing and performing full-time again. She felt, after years of being a therapist and in therapy herself, that she was avoiding singing because she was scared of it. She has now "jumped off the cliff," as she puts it. Her encore was indicative of this: called "Still Life," it was about no longer running away.

The pair was an odd match, though each was an impressive performer individually. The audience enjoyed both performances, though Greenway was clearly better at working with the audience than Kaplansky.

The After Dark Music Series is sponsored by many local businesses, including Main Street Stationery, the Middlebury Inn, and Otter Creek Brewing. The April concerts will be the final ones of the 1996-1997 season, and will be Garnet Rogers at 8 pm on Friday, April 11, followed by Mustard's Retreat at 11 am on Saturday, April 12, both at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Tickets can be purchased at the Middlebury Inn or Main Street Stationery. The 1997-1998 season will begin in October.

Opinion: Internet explained

Published in the Mountainview

Much of my time lately has been taken up discussing the Internet, commerce, privacy, arid the future of electronic communication. I have decided to write a column on it, to share with others my point of view, and to elicit comments from readers. It is in a question-and-answer format. Questions are those posed to me or to the public in general. The answers are mine.

Q. How safe is sending my credit card number over the Internet?
A. As safe as handing your credit card to a waiter in a restaurant. Safer, actually: it is very difficult to capture credit card information, even when transmitted as clear text (not encoded), over the Internet. For a variety of technical reasons which I can explain at length elsewhere, it is easier for a waiter to run off extra imprints of your credit card at a restaurant than it is for someone to watch your computer at the precise time you transmit your credit card number.

Q. Okay, but I still don't want to do my banking electronically. What can you tell me about that?
A. I can't make you do anything you don't want to do. However, you should realize that electronic banking will become widespread within the next three years. That means you will be doing it then, if only because your bank will charge you money for other services, including ATMs and teller services. (This is already happening in many banking markets around the country.) If nobody uses these systems of electronic finance now, while they are still finding out where the flaws are, nobody will ever find the flaws. Then, when we're all using it, the system will be weaker. The more people who do this sort of thing now, the better. We'll find the problems faster, find solutions faster, and make everything safer.

Q. What about privacy? Can someone find my home address or phone number on the Internet?
A. That information is public information, and has always been available to anyone who asks for it at phone company's Directory Assistance services, or at local, state, and federal records offices. It is easier and faster to find that information now on the Internet, but two caveats apply. First, that information is likely to be inaccurate and out of date. Second, someone must still go looking for it.

Q. What about my Email address? Will people be able to find me?
A. Yes. However, you should know that I actively seek out and register myself with Internet directories, search engines, and registries at every opportunity. I still receive only about one "junk" Email message a month. I receive other "unsolicited" Email messages, but they are like the one today, in which a woman from an ad agency north of Boston offered to purchase one of my photographs. She found my Email address while doing a web search for photographers in Vermont. That sort of unsolicited message is fine with me!

Q. I'm still concerned about controlling access to my name, address, phone number, and other vital information. How should I go about that, in the age of the Internet?
A. The short answer is, "Give up." That information, including your Social Security Number, is pretty much generally available to any member of the public who cares to look for it. This includes the "top-secret password" maiden name of your mother, which is easily findable from your birth certificate and your parents' marriage license. (If there is one, it's in the clerk's office of the state in which they were married; if there isn't one, her maiden name is on your birth certificate.) However, most Internet directory services recognize that people perceive a threat to their privacy from being listed in such databases, and will remove any individual who requests it. There is not yet a service which will request that you be removed from all online databases. I reiterate that, as one of the most easily found people on the web, I have yet to encounter serious privacy problems as a result of the Internet.

Monday, March 10, 1997

Town Meeting addresses pressing issues

Published in the Mountainview

The registered voters of the town of Middlebury gathered at the Municipal Auditorium Monday night, March 3 for the annual Town Meeting. Ten items were on the agenda, two of which were voted on by Australian (secret) ballot on Tuesday. March 4. As of this writing, those results are still pending. The first seven articles were approved by voice vote, and the eighth, "other business," provided the public a chance to offer otherwise unsolicited input to the town governing process.

The meeting began with a call to order by Town Moderator James Douglas. Prior to beginning official business, Selectboard Chair Peter Lebenbaum was thanked by the board and the public for his nine-year service on the selectboard.

The reports of the town officers were presented to the attendees by members of the Selectboard. Questions from the floor were brief, and residents seemed relieved that last year's reading of printed reports had beendispensed with in favor of a more abbreviated summary presentation followed by questions. After a unanimous approval, business moved to the budget.

The annual budget for fiscal 1997/98 was discussed at length. The discussion included questions about provision of services, alternative sources of funding, and other budgetary concerns.
Concerns were raised by residents about the condition of sidewalks around town. Sidewalk repair is being level-funded this year, a fact which one resident noted was ironic because "level is the exact opposite of our sidewalk quality." A voice vote approved the annual budget and taxation amounts.

Only one comment from the floor was offered about the collection of taxes, and Town Manager Betty Wheeler explained that by popular request, the payment of tax had been split into three payments rather than the previous two, to accommodate those with less ready cash throughout the year. Wheeler also noted that, due to confusion over this year's conversion from a calendar year to a fiscal year, over half of the town residents had not paid their taxes to the town as yet. The deadline for payment is March 5.

The voters unanimously voted to spend town money on highways at a level to maintain state highway assistance funding.

The next item of business was the authorization of the use of the Village Green by St. Stephen's Episcopal Church for a building extension. St. Stephen's does not own the land on which it sits. That land is owned by the town, and use variations must be approved by the town voters. The church has long been looking to expand its facilities to accommodate more office space, an elevator, and a meeting room. Many community groups use the space, in addition to the congregation; the construction proposal is expected to benefit those groups as well. After much discussion, use of the small strip southeast of the existing structure was approved by voice vote, with some dissent. Residents' concerns included potential interference with the railroad, the border between the Village Green and the railroad property, building design, and the precedent set by this action. A member of the church's vestry explained that the Agency of Transportation had indicated no conflicts between plans for the future of the railroad and the proposed use of the land. Other issues were not appropriate for the venue, and were postponed until the appropriate point in the planning approval process.

The final issue decided at the meeting was whether the town should advise the Selectboard to continue to include in the Town General Fund Budget, funding for health and social service agencies. Currently that funding is provided within the general budget; other towns use other methods of approving municipal funding to these agencies. Selectman Bill Perkins suggested that municipal funding removes the impetus for voluntary charitable giving on the part of the public, and removes some of the drive from these organizations to raise funds from individuals in the community. Town Manager Wheeler argued that there was greater control for the town,    and greater predictability for the agencies, if money was budgeted annually by the town. Selectman Fred Copeland offered the voters a chance to have more say in how their dollars were spent, by reviewing each of the agencies' proposals separately from the town budget. Board members of several agencies offered their opinions, which largely indicated that Seleetboard review was more thorough than the general public would undertake, so scrutiny of agency budgets was stricter with the current system. Members of the public also offered their approval to the Selectboard for their handling of the matter to date, and suggested that the Selectboard continue to review those agencies which have traditionally been funded by municipal dollars. The advisory voice vote was to continue to include the funding within the general town budget.

Other business included a question about dog license fees, a proposal for the outlawing of smoking tobacco products by those not allowed by law to buy tobacco, and a commendation to the American Legion for donating their old property on Creek Road to the town for recreational purposes, expected to be youth activities.

The meeting ended at 10 PM, after all business was concluded.

Opinion: Selectboard acts properly

Published in the Mountainview

At Town Meeting, the voters of Middlebury were given the chance to have more control of the way their tax dollars are spent. An advisory vote was taken to assist the Selectboard in deciding whether to continue to fund health and social service agencies from the town's general budget, or to separate the budget and the funding to subject them to separate votes by the residents.

Selectman Fred Copeland suggested that we take advantage of the opportunity to review for ourselves the way we spend those tax dollars. He posed several questions for discussion. I will answer them here.

Would it be a threat to the funding of these organizations? From the experience of neighboring towns which approve their agency funding by other means, the answer is no.

Do the voters want more of a say about their tax burden and the town expenditures? In all likelihood, the funding from the town would be the same. Therefore, the expenditures and taxes would be the same. It would be a different method of getting to the same place.

Would it be too much trouble or too much work for town residents to analyze the budgets of these agencies and decide on our own how they should be funded? Yes. We elect our public officials specifically for the purpose of evaluating large amounts of information and making sensible decisions based on that information and their own experience. The Selectboard are experienced at evaluating budgets of social services agencies; I am not. The Selectboard has paid assistants to help them understand material they receive, and they speak with the voice of the whole town when they ask for information from, or make recommendations to, these agencies. As an individual, even were I to give a large amount of my income to one or more of these agencies. I could not speak with the voice of a powerful legal entity with a large budget.

The Selectboard, as attested by members of the board and by officers of various area health and social services agencies, scrutinizes the annual budgets of each of the agencies which request municipal funding. The Selectboard concerns itself largely with the services provided by that agency to residents of the Town of Middlebury. The Selectboard can suggest, as they did this year, that all agencies only request level funding, rather than increases, due to additional expenses borne by the Town this year. Every agency respected that request.

We have the opportunity to take upon ourselves a greater portion of the burden of self-government. We must commend the Selectboard for offering us that opportunity. We must also know when these issues must be decided as individuals, and when we can delegate that authority to our elected representatives. This time it is the latter. We must encourage the Selectboard to continue to offer us the opportunity to govern ourselves more directly; we must also support them in their efforts to perform the tasks we delegate to them.
In this instance, voters' time would be largely wasted by debating each of the agencies'  funding requests each year at Town Meeting. Most of us would be arguing from positions of anecdotal information, largely unsupported by facts. We would not have read, even once, the annual reports of these organizations whose line-item budgets are examined carefully by our Selectboard. Funding to these organizations would not be threatened substantially, and the democratic process would be subverted by discussion which would change little.

The Selectboard are the proper body to consider funding requests from health and social service agencies. The body politic must support them in their effort. We must also offer our input at every opportunity, so that they may know our opinions when they include the funding for these agencies in the general town budget.
We also must recognize that municipal funding is a small portion of the budgets of these organizations, and we, as members of the public, must support them with our own charitable contributions as well. Kudos to the agencies for their hard work, and to the Selectboard for so ably representing and remaining mindful of the public interest.

Monday, March 3, 1997

Opinion: Caution necessary in news council

Published in the Mountainview

An idea of which all journalists should be aware is a new proposal for "news councils," or bodies which monitor news organizations and the media for ethics and integrity. They are watchdog groups, made up of members of the journalistic professions, which can investigate and censure reporters or media which violate ethical guidelines.

Media censorship or regulation is a concept which should be investigated carefully. It rarely does harm to investigate a solution to a problem, but implementation of solutions should be done with great caution. This is particularly the case when dealing with institutions so close to the core of the American culture as its news gathering and dissemination organizations.

Editorial content of one publication is already subject to public scrutiny and to the challenges of other publications. Most publications have a "Corrections" section where they admit their own errors and provide correct information. This is a form of self-censorship which is productive and appropriate; any newspaper which has a large amount of space devoted to corrections is likely doing a poor job of fact-checking. Further, should one publication fail to correct its own error, other publications are free to (and ethically bound to) report the correct facts.

Outside monitoring (even by a formal intra-industry regulating body) are threats to a free press. Press monitoring goes on all day, all over the world. Individuals receive information from media outlets and evaluate the credibility and usefulness of the information. Into that equation they add their own self-interest, the reportage of the same situation by other information sources, and their genera/ experience with a news reporting agency.

To formalize this implicit interrelationship between media outlets is to formalize a threat to an essential freedom in the American democracy. Left unformalized, regulation is on a low level, bound by ethical considerations but free from the intimidation which a watchdog necessarily imposes. Formalized, the regulation suddenly carries the weight of the world.

When developing a system of regulation, the question must always be posed: "Who watches the watchmen?" As the information dissemination system is currently in use, the answer is "They watch each other, and are equally capable of reporting on violations of public trust." A news council would be accountable to the public. That appears to be a good thing, until we remember that the only effective watchdogs the public has on its side are the media. Each individual cannot go out and research the world and current events; that is specifically why we watch television and read newspapers. With news councils in the system, the answer would be "The regulators watch the reporters, who in turn watch the regulators. However, the regulators, when they speak, speak with a more powerful and legitimated voice than the reporters." This imbalance of power and of access to the public mind is dangerous to freedom of information.

Freedom of information is so important to the American public that we often fail to acknowledge its existence. We often exhibit cynicism and doubt towards the media. Those are both good things. If we inherently understand that freedoms are important, we are unlikely to abridge them. If we question the sources of our information, we will always feel in control of our own minds and opinions. However, if we take for granted that freedoms will always exist, and begin to mistrust the media and suspect it of threatening the public interest, we risk limiting the very instruments we rely on for our own., participation in the wider world.

Imposing regulations on a necessarily free industry is a mistake which must not be made now or in the future. Having bodies which meet to design ethical guidelines is an excellent idea; all newspapers currently have them, in the form of editorial boards. Professional journalists' associations have codes of ethics to which all members must subscribe. The ethics are already in place, and despite disparate sources are very similar codes throughout the world's journalistic organizations. Regulating an industry which is self-regulating and necessarily free is to deny freedom of information and of the press.

Monday, February 24, 1997

Opinion: Help the Environmental Center

Published in the Mountainview

Residents of the town of Middlebury have a unique opportunity. The Environmental Council has invited all who are interested to participate in the planning process for a new Environmental Center to be sited west of campus, in the fields south of the Harris Farm.

College faculty and staff are also invited, as are any residents of the county who are interested in the planning process and in this project.

College Environmental Coordinator Jen Hazen has said that anyone, no matter how mild their interest, should attend the brainstorming meeting on March 1 from 4 to 9 pm, in Weybridge House. Dinner will be served.
The basic concept for the new center is a multidisciplinary focus on living and learning. It will be guided by a College-wide determination to teach citizenship, as well as environmental studies. The Center as currently imagined, according to Hazen, will house residences, dining area, seminar and lecture space, and adjoin gardens and cultivated fields west of campus. A collaborative effort of students, staff, faculty, administrators, and area residents will be needed to ensure the success of the Center.

A place which will welcome all comers is badly needed on campus; local residents, faculty, staff, students, and administrators will, Hazen hopes, come together in the space all will help design, to learn about the environment and interrelationships in the world outside of Middlebury.

This is a rare opportunity for residents to have input before a decision is needed from a town governing body. It is something which all residents should both appreciate and take part in. The College rarely opens its house to the world; for it to do so now is a tacit admission of its need for assistance and guidance in this challenging time in the College's history.

Hazen welcomes letters, telephone calls, or other methods of communication and input as well. Participation in this dialogue, on the part of all residents, faculty, and staff, is voluntary but is governed by the moral imperative of involvement in one's own community. This is a chance like none before; if the opening is not productive, it is even less likely to happen again.

Now is an excellent time to act. This community speaks with many voices when it comes to the future of the College, and its relationship with the town and residents. Now is a time when the College is opening itself to positive input and constructive criticism about the process of planning this Environmental Center. It will be, more than any other part of the College (save perhaps the Arts Center), a resource for the public as well as for the College. We residents must participate in this process to ensure we get something we can use.

The College wants to give us something for free. All we need to do is offer our input at this stage, and through the planning process for this Center. What we get, at the end, is a facility which will be as much ours as the effort we put into it, as much ours as it is the College's. If, however, we neglect to participate, not only will we lose a golden (and once-in-a-lifetime) opportunity, we will be left on the outside of this new Environmental Center, wondering what could have been.

Monday, February 17, 1997

Concert Review: Connie Kaldor

Published in the Mountainview

The Knights of Columbus Hall on Merchants' Row in Middlebury filled on Saturday evening, February 8. People came from all over Addison County to hear Canadian folk-singer Connie Kaldor play as part of the After Dark Music Series. Kaldor, from Regina, Saskatchewan, is an accomplished musician who has won, among other awards, the Juno Award, which is Canada's equivalent of the U.S. Grammy Award.

Kaldor and her bassist, Bill Gossage of Montreal, were a bit stiff during the opening few numbers, but loosened up before too long. A fast stress-filled narrative about all sorts of things needing doing in this life led into a song called "Relax," advice Kaldor could have taken at the outset. Her ad-libs and song introductions seemed rehearsed and at times forced, until just before intermission.

She played keyboard, guitar, and sang a capella at different times, and Gossage provided backup vocals. As the two became more comfortable on the small stage in the silent room, Kaldor's "dry crop-failure" sense of humor opened up. Explaining that the broad, open Canadian prairie is very different from Vermont's rolling hills and forests, she contradicted herself and suggested that Vermonters might appreciate the advice prairie-dwellers give each other: "The three main routes out of Saskatchewan are marriage, crop failure, and the arts."

Despite Kaldor's escape, she returns often and draws her inspiration from the people and the places of the Saskatchewan landscape. She sang an old Canadian favorite, "Saskatoon Moon," but had to teach it to the Vermonter audience first, leading to come confusion on the part of the audience. The audience did well, though, and Kaldor seemed pleased.

Her lyrics were indicative of the difficult landscape in which she was raised: "Mother's Prayer" was a touching song about how mothers view the world and their hopes for their children's future and safety. "For the First Time, I Don't Care" was a paradoxically-named love song drawn from a musical Kaldor wrote last summer.

Her musical range was impressive; not just the notes which she could reach - very high and very low - but moving from ballads to hymns, from blues and soul to country style songs. Gossage kept up ably, and played fiddle as well as appropriate. Kaldor's musical experience is broad: she taught songwriting at an arts school in northern Saskatchewan, as well as writing musicals, operas, songs, and performing on multiple instruments.

Her songs come from the heart and from the desperation of the lonely and the hardworking poor. "Coyote's Call" expressed a feeling many Vermonters have: "at least there's a roof overhead and the kids got a yard" to play in. She mixed a "cheap, trashy, and tasteless" song together with a wrenching song about a recently-deceased lifelong friend. The eclectic mix worked for her as it would for few others; she showcased her talent and held the mood and attention of the audience throughout the evening. Her long stories leading into songs gave a sense of perspective and an insight into Kaldor as an artist and a songwriter; the audience was able to understand some of what life is like on the prairie.

The universality of her songs is no doubt what has won her such acclaim in Canada; it guaranteed her success in Middlebury as well. The prairie and its inhabitants have as strong a sense of place, community and tradition as Vermonters do; the trials of human existence come through in her songs with a clarity and simplicity rare in even folk music today.

The After Dark Music Series brings prominent folk-influenced musicians to Middlebury each month during the winter. It is sponsored by many local businesses, including Otter Creek Brewing, the Middlebury Inn, and Main Street Stationery. The next performance will be by Lucy Kaplansky and Greg Greenway on Saturday, March 8, at 8 pm at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Doors open at 7 pm. Tickets ($13 in advance, $15 at the door) are expected to sell out, but are currently available at the Middlebury Inn or Main Street Stationery. Kaplansky and Greenway are sharing the show; they are not a duo, but will perform separately throughout the evening. Both are excellent musicians with national reputations; it, too, should be an excellent show!

Opinion: Supreme Court rocks the schools

Published in the Mountainview

Last week the Vermont Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision striking down the property-tax-based method of funding public education in Vermont. Deemed unfair to poor towns, the Court said that the current system is based too much on the financial base in the community, rather than on the actual cost of giving each Vermont child a solid education.

The case, brought by the ACLU on behalf of a Whiting third-grader, has already had strong effects in Montpelier. The Statehouse was abuzz with discussion as the Vermont Assembly begins its second month of legislative session. Already on the slate for this session was property tax reform. The Court's decision has forced the issue, and has forced the reform to be even more sweeping than anyone was previously talking about.

The basic structure of a new school financing structure for the state is likely to be a single pool for statewide funding, with a dollar amount earmarked for each student. This will improve the funding levels for schools in poor communities; what remains to be seen is the impact on funding for schools in middle and upper-class towns. There has been some talk of prohibiting wealthier towns from spending more money on their schools, but that initiative is likely to fail. Local control of schools has become a national concern; preventing parents from materially influencing their children's education is a dangerous and potentially litigation-causing issue.

The major questions now are how this statewide pool will be funded and administered. Property tax is a deeply controversial issue in Vermont, where farms and condominiums are closely juxtaposed on similar plots of land. Some suggestions for an increased income tax to fund schools have also surfaced.

That suggestion is based on the idea that a family's tax burden should be proportional to their ability to pay it, rather than taxing a poor farmer on large tracts of land which yield little income. Income taxes would also place more directly the burden of school support on renters, who now currently cover their landlords' tax payments with their rent bills. This is a concern; should property taxes drop, will rents decrease statewide? It is not likely, though renters' other tax bills will increase.

Another potential method of funding schools is additional sales tax. This would leverage tourist dollars to directly benefit Vermont's children and future, in additional to being based on the ability of the taxpayer to pay; most essential items are not subject to sales tax,

We are likely to see this reform process move forward this legislative session, but there is no guarantee of a solution anytime soon. Other states have had similar court decisions come down in recent years; notably, New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled very similarly to the Vermont decision. That was eight years ago, and nothing substantial has changed about the way New Jersey funds education; solutions are bogged down in legislative subcommittees.

Vermont's Supreme Court justices have the option, should a solution be too long in coming or be constitutionally flawed in other ways, to take over the educational-funding system themselves and design a new, constitutionally-acceptable solution. This is not likely to happen soon, or at all, but it is a thinly veiled threat to Governor Dean and the state legislature. Vermont's leaders need to design a plan which is constitutionally acceptable, which funds education equally across Vermont, which does not severely curtail the influence parents or their financial resources can have on their children's education, and which is affordable for all Vermonters.

The Supreme Court has not said much to guide them, except that the current system is unacceptable. Vermont's constitution states that all Vermonters have a right to equal access to public education. The Court has said this translates easily into dollar figures per student. Schools doing more with less are likely to see increased funding, while schools doing less with more will be forced to be more efficient. We can only hope that schools which are spending large amounts of money per student, and which are seeing material results, will be permitted to pursue their excellence without fear of financial cuts.